Why mum guilt doesn’t get the last word

Growing up, there were certain expectations on my life that set me up pretty naturally to live under a certain level of guilt. So guilt itself wasn’t an altogether unfamiliar feeling. But I was not prepared for the amount of questioning myself that becoming a mother brought along. I remember it starting as soon as my first baby was born. Am I playing with baby enough? Have I failed my baby if I can’t breastfeed? Why is my baby not developing the same way as my friend’s baby? And each time, just when I thought I understood my baby, she changed again.

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Mum guilt can be a strong, negative and loud voice in our lives and most of what it’s saying isn’t true. If you’re hearing it say you’re a useless mum, that your kids don’t love you, or that you’re destroying their lives, pick up the phone and call a friend. They’re lies and they just have too much power if they aren’t shared. Sometimes I think we just need a cup of tea and some encouragement from someone we trust.

Can it ever be a positive thing?

I will say this – I do think guilt can be a positive thing. Sometimes. Sometimes this guilt can actually be a quiet voice helping us make an instinctive decision. In the years before having my first daughter, I lost my older brother and then two years later, my mother. A year and a half later, baby came. When she was born, I felt like I was missing my backbone. Without my mum to call on, I had no idea how I was doing as a mother and often felt overwhelmed.

All this left me with an awareness of how precious life is. As a working mum, I could foresee the guilt I was going to walk through if I left my baby at home for my TV career. Days in TV are long and stressful, and looking at my precious Isabella, I knew something had to give. I knew I had to lay down some part of my career. At this point, my husband, Paul, and I made the bold decision that we would not put our children in daycare. And so we’ve spent the last eight years juggling work around each other.

Every so often our jobs overlap and my awesome mother-in-law steps in to support us – something I am so grateful for. But we’ve been able to commit to our decision and to the jobs we love too. This has often looked like sacrificing work opportunities and living simply but we’re extremely thankful for the life we have.

If I could do it all over again

If I were to turn back time eight years and start my whole parent journey again without guilt, I think I’d be a whole lot kinder to myself and compare myself less to others. We all mother in such different ways. Instead of feeling guilty about not being able to take my babies to different activities I would settle on what we do do, and drop the guilt.

Now, I have an eight, six, two and one year old and it dawns on me that I’m raising my kids the way I was raised. I grew up on a farm in a small community Central Otago. Our life was simple and I loved it, and I think I’ve found ways to replicate it here in the big city. We don’t do a lot – we go to the park, go for a fluffy, have friends over and let the kids have lots of simple play. It’s not very glamorous but it makes for a calm home and a low-stress lifestyle. The truth is I’ve stopped feeling guilty about it all because I’ve stopped comparing myself!

Let’s not give guilt the last word

I think it’s okay to own the life you have an be proud of it. Guilt can be a motivator for change or a lie that rules our life. If we can decipher between the two, we can achieve great things as mothers. Guilt doesn’t have to have the last word.

As women, we can overthink things and get caught up in details that our children are probably not even aware of. Take a moment to remind yourself of what your kids actually care about. At our house, we like to play a game at the dinner table where we each say what we like about each other. Often our kids say that they love that we hug them, sing songs with them or make pizza for tea. Kids have simple needs and if we’re meeting them, then trust that those feelings of guilt don’t need to negate your whole mothering life.

Let guilt take a back seat and the things that you do well as a mother be your driver. We’re often great at encouraging our friends and family but are so much harder on ourselves. So try lace your thoughts yourself as a mother with the same grace you give others. We’re all doing the best with what we have!


Attend a Toolbox parenting course

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About Author

Naomi Toilalo

Naomi Toilalo may just be a familiar face to some of you. She is co-host of Tōku Reo, a language-learning show on Māori Television and has also worked as presenter, assistant director and production assistant for the youth programme, Tu Wera. Naomi is mum to four little girls.

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